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Four steps to building a data culture in your funding organisation

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The Data Champions programme brings funders together to collaborate and learn how to grow a data culture in their organisations. In this blog, programme facilitator Dirk Slater shares tips on building a ‘data culture’ to enable better use of data in funding organisations.

The ‘Data Champions’ are a group of people from different UK funding organisations who come together in cohorts to learn about data. Each month, they attend a structured online workshop and an online discussion as part of their six-month programme. Each workshop is focused on a specific topic and has clear learning goals. The second workshop, on 9 December 2020, was focused on how to build a data culture in different funding organisations. With 32 Data Champions in the (virtual) room, bringing their experiences from a variety of funding organisations across the UK, it was a space for rich peer-learning.

Building a data culture

What is a data culture?

An organisation has, what we at 360Giving call a ‘data culture’ when its activities and work are understood to be data projects. It’s about acknowledging and recognising data’s prevalence and importance within the organisation, and that each staff member has a role in using data to inform decision making. Creating a data culture isn’t about implementing one thing in particular – it is about the organisation’s relationship with data. There are many aspects which make up a data culture, and we write about building a data culture in more depth in this post.

Why is it important for you and your organisation?

In building a data culture, organisations will necessarily build a learning culture. This means growing a culture where organisations use their data and learn from it, to progress intentionally towards their goals. For grantmakers, a data culture enables more effective and informed decisions around grantmaking. As one Data Champion said, “culture drives capacity”.

Building a data culture will help individuals within an organisation to understand what the overall goals are, and therefore why, and how, they can work with data to make progress.

How to grow a data culture in your organisation

It’s crucial to understand that nearly everything your organisation does will involve data in some way. Nearly everyone in the organisation has a role, and a unique skill set that can help ensure data is used effectively. To create a data culture, it’s important to articulate how each person’s role within your team works with data, and help everyone to understand how best to use it.

  1. Understand data literacy levels in your team

    The IFRC’s Data Audiences framework (PDF), is a useful resource for understanding how ‘data literate’ someone is. As a team, or individually, you could go through each of the four data user profiles – from ‘data curious’ to ‘data ready’ – and match them to your team members. This will help to quickly paint a picture of the literacy levels within your organisation, and highlight areas where you could build them up more. Repeat the process in the future to track progress and understand what steps need to be taken to improve.

    • Data Curious: they need an ‘on ramp’ to learn and be exposed to the data basics.
    • Data Advocate: they want to improve their data skills and are likely to be great supporters for building a data culture.
    • Data Active: they sometimes use data in their jobs, are motivated to self-learn and are on their way to being a ‘data-leader’.
    • Data Ready: they are ‘trainers’ or ‘data leaders’ who lead data-driven projects and mentor colleagues.

    “The Data User Profile is a great way to understand an individual’s relationship with data and their skill level. I think this will help show me what I need to do.” – Darren Cotton, Leicestershire & Rutland Community Foundation, and 360Giving Data Champion

  2. Understand the motivations and barriers your colleagues have to using data

    Along with data literacy in your team, it’s also crucial to understand what motivations and barriers they have to working with data. This can be done by creating user profiles for each person, based on their answers to relevant questions, such as:

    • How do they use data in their job?
    • How might data help them to do their job more effectively?
    • What barriers do they face in using data?

    The user profiles will highlight areas which might need more attention, and show how team members can help each other by swapping skills and mentoring.

  3. Learn as an organisation

    It is useful to bring the team together regularly to discuss progress towards your goals to grow data skills and enable better use of data in your organisation. Reflect on what is being learnt, both by individuals and as the organisation, and how this can help make your work more effective.

  4. Use adult learning techniques

    Adult learning expert Malcom S. Knowles developed a learning theory called Andragogy, which essentially means adult-led learning. The following elements to this theory can be useful to keep in mind when engaging your team to learn about data and therefore use it more effectively for your organisation:

    • Adults need to understand and accept the reason for learning a specific skill.
    • Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities.
    • Adults need to be involved in both the planning and evaluation of their learning.
    • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
    • Most adults are interested in learning what has immediate relevance to their professional and social lives.

    (Taken from LevelUp: How Adults Learn: From Pedagogy to Andragogy)

“Understanding that adults learn through looking at problems will help me to present my ideas and gain buy-in from senior leaders.” – Rosy Phillips, The Mercers’ Company, 360Giving Data Champion

What did the Data Champions take away from the workshop?

At the end of the workshop, the Data Champions shared what they had learnt from the session.

  • Some said they wanted to engage their colleagues more on data by asking how they work with data, what they think about how the organisation uses data
  • Some said they wanted to connect with the rest of their team with a shared data goal
  • Some reflected on the different learning styles in their teams, and said they wanted to understand these more
  • Others said they wanted to get better at presenting data to their colleagues, making it more accessible and actionable

Turn learning into action

We asked the Data Champions, ‘what will be your first step after this workshop to build a data culture in your organisation?’.

They said they planned to:

  • Think about how we present data to our Board, and ask them what they are curious about in relation to the data.
  • Set up a skills and knowledge-sharing session to improve the quality of data we collected and the team’s confidence in working with data.
  • Make space on the agenda in the next team meeting to get feedback about current data literacy levels and gaps. Build on from there.

Whether you’re from a large or small organisation, at the start of your data journey or a few years in, there are always ways to develop your relationship with data. So, what action could you take to grow, or enhance, a data culture in your organisation?

Look out for blog 3: Which public datasets are most useful for funders?

Our next blog will share tips from our Data Champions on using publicly accessible datasets – how to go about it and which are most useful in their funding organisation. For more guidance on developing a data culture, read our previous blog on mapping data workflows and data collection.

If you have found this blog useful or have any feedback, we’d love to know! We also welcome ideas for blogs and other content from our community, to help enable better use of data for funding organisations. Drop us an email at comms@threesixtygiving.org.